4 Ways to Manage Failure

Failure: picture of statue with face palm


Starting a business is so tricky that most are bound to fail. But failure teaches important lessons and can be managed, according to Colm Lyon (@colmlyon), CEO and founder of Realex Payments.

Speaking at the second annual Dotconf (@dotconf) today, Lyon recounted his experiences setting up Realex (@realexpayments) around 11 years ago and gave the audience four tips on how to manage failure.

Hosted by the National College of Ireland (@ncirl) in Dublin, the Dotconf is a free, one-day conference on web tech, business and other stuff and was attended by several hundred webheads.

Lyon said he has failed “numerous times” over the past 11 year but said failure is just motivation to try again. “I describe failure and success as two peas in the same pod,” he said.

His four tips:

Vision: Think about where you need to be, and be clear about it. Lyon also advises Enterprise Ireland and has reviewed around 250 business plans this year. “There was a muddiness around some of them,” he said. Lyon recalled some advice he got years ago in America that he still refers to: “If you want to make it real, you gotta make it clear.”

Culture: All business have competition, and today’s leading-edge technology can become tomorrow’s commodity, Lyon said. But one key differentiator in the market can be the culture of an organization. Lyon recounted how Realex beat other competitors to win Virgin Atlantic as a customer. Things started badly when the team from Dublin flew to Britain on the day of the appointment instead of the night before. The flight was delayed. A crash on the highway delayed them further. Their laptop wouldn’t connect for the presentation. They had no CD to copy it and all the machine’s USB ports were locked down for security reasons.

Yet, even with one hour of a 90-minute slot lost, Lyon realized in that stressful situation that, if a potential customer is happy with your price and product, they really want to know more about their potential business partner. So Lyon spoke about the culture at Realex and how they shared many of the same values as Virgin and how their visions matched. “You can call all of those things bullshit,” he said, but they were an essential differentiator in the marketplace.

Clarity of Strategy: Lyon credited his company’s recent growth spurt with the development of a clear strategy. If he had been asked a few years ago what it was, he would have answered “arms folded and a little bit defensive about what we were doing,” he said. But Realex has doubled in size since 2008, and now has 90 staff and operates in 30 countries, he said. Some questions that will inform a strategy:

  • Tell me what winning is to you?
  • Where do you want to be in two years?
  • What will the product be like?
  • How are you different from the competition? This is a tough one to answer, Lyon said.
  • Why do you think this is going to work?

Break it up: “There is a constant mistake we still make to this day: Trying to move a mountain,” Lyon said. Large problems should be broken in to pieces with milestones for the completion of each stage. This reminder is still hanging on the wall in his office, he said. “Text books call this strategic planning,” he said but 80 percent of his activities are focused on delivery of milestones. He warned, however, that not everything can be planned out precisely. “Sometimes there’s an element of creativity or design that you bring to the project,” he said. One example of how deadlines can slip is with his new company, Carapay (@carapay). New ventures are especially prone to time slippages, Lyon said.

Despite the gloomy talk about the economy, Lyon said it is still a good time to start a business in Ireland. There are many supports and there are more financing options for start ups than there were when he founded Realex around 11 years ago.

Image by Tinou Bau on Flickr.